Arkansas football: Where should the Hogs turn if QB Ty Storey is out or limited vs. Tulsa?
After being hired last December, Arkansas coach Chad Morris and his staff spent nearly 10 months waiting for a quarterback to stand out as the best option. There was no clear resolution until Ty Storey showed vast improvement over the past two weeks while the offense has scored more than 30 points in consecutive SEC games.
Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, the offense might not get the chance to build on the momentum Storey has created. The junior from Charleston, Ark., sustained an apparent head injury in the fourth quarter against Ole Miss last Saturday. He missed the final 13 minutes of that loss and his health is still being closely monitored this week. Morris said Wednesday that Storey is day-to-day. It’s an especially bad break because the Razorbacks have their best chance at earning an FBS victory in 2018 with Tulsa coming to Fayetteville on Saturday.
The backup battle
If Storey is ruled out, where will Arkansas turn? The answer last week was sophomore Cole Kelley, who started four games in 2017 and two this season.
Kelley relieved Storey against Ole Miss and Connor Noland did not play despite the two backups seemingly being on equal footing heading into the game. Though Kelley threw a 39-yard touchdown on his first attempt, he was mostly underwhelming as Arkansas failed to score in the fourth quarter and blew a 9-point lead. According to offensive coordinator Joe Craddock, the decision to go with Kelley over Noland against Ole Miss was more about the circumstances than anything.
“Putting Connor in an SEC game in the fourth quarter, I think that would be unfair to him,” Craddock told reporters Monday. “Cole obviously has played a lot of football. He’s had a little bit more reps in games this year and we just felt like he gave us the best chance to finish it off.”
Apparently, that does not mean Kelley is more likely to play if Storey is out this week. Craddock and Morris both indicated the Hogs wouldn’t be afraid to start Noland if they believe he gives them the best chance to win. Noland has played in just one game, so he can still play in three more without exhausting his redshirt option.
Tulsa is no pushover
It’s not as if Arkansas can start just anyone at quarterback and roll over Tulsa, either. While the Hogs’ 1-6 record isn’t indicative of how well they’ve played recently, the same can be said for the 1-5 Golden Hurricane.
Tulsa held a two-touchdown lead over No. 21 South Florida (6-0) last week before allowing 15 unanswered points in a 25-24 defeat. The Golden Hurricane also had a two-score fourth-quarter lead in a loss at Houston (5-1) the previous week and played No. 7 Texas (6-1) to a one-score game last month.
So while Tulsa also hasn’t beaten an FBS team this season and is 0-3 in AAC play, it’s a team that has proven capable of hanging tough against some obviously superior competition. And this season, even the improved version of the Razorbacks is not an obviously superior group.
Who should start?
If Storey is cleared to play, he’s obviously the best option. If he’s out, the Razorbacks should turn to Noland.
Kelley has already received plenty of opportunities to prove himself in Morris’ offense and it simply hasn’t worked. His last start was in Week 3 against North Texas. He threw 4 interceptions as the Hogs were embarrassed 44-17 on their home field by a C-USA opponent. He’ll almost certainly play in short-yardage rushing situations — he leads the team with 3 rushing touchdowns — but he’s shown to be very ineffective outside of that.
Giving Noland the chance to start provides a glimpse into the future while still allowing him the opportunity to redshirt. He also can’t possibly be much more ineffective than Kelley has been this season. And while Tulsa isn’t a team that’s going to roll over Saturday, it’s also not exactly throwing Noland to the wolves in an SEC game.